MGM out, Walgreens in?


There’s a long way to go before a new Walgreens store becomes a reality on the southwest corner of Larpenteur and Lexington avenues, but early indications are that nearby residents may be warming to the idea.

At least that’s what informal polling seemed to show at an Apr. 12 meeting of the District 10 Como Community Council’s Land Use Committee. The committee met to review a proposal by MGM Wine and Spirits to demolish its corporate headquarters and retail store on the property and construct a new 13,000+ square-foot building for Walgreens.

The site design and architectural drawings for the new facility have been prepared by John Kohler of Semper Development, an architect who has represented Walgreens development interests in many communities around the area.

At the Land Use Committee meeting, Kohler and Paul Setter, vice president of sales and marketing for MGM, reviewed a design that already had been tweaked to respond to neighborhood concerns expressed at an earlier session.

Those changes principally related to five houses that MGM owns, south across the alley, on the north side of California Avenue. MGM has said it plans to improve and sell the homes. Nearby property owners felt some of the proposed changes would negatively affect the marketability of those residences, as well as their own property values.

The revised plan continues to include demolition of one home and construction of garages with shared-access driveways between the remaining houses. But the proposal no longer calls for the house on the northwest corner of California and Lexington to be rotated 90 degrees, and the barrier being suggested between the commercial and residential properties has been moved northward to allow for slightly more backyard space for the houses.

New concerns were voiced at the meeting, including residents’ desire that the alley from Dunlap Street terminate at the proposed Walgreens parking lot rather than connecting with it.

After the meeting, Chris Harkness, Land Use Committee chair, said given the time and effort that will be required of all parties involved, she would like to give the full District 10 board the opportunity to review the plan to determine if there is enough support to continue with deliberations.

Even if the project were to receive the backing of District 10, there would still be hurdles to cross with the city of St. Paul, including rezoning and vacating a portion of the alley.

Whatever the ultimate outcome, MGM’s interest in selling the property is a dramatic departure from what appeared to be its earlier plans to expand on the site. The company began acquiring homes on California in 2007, and tensions were heightened when it tore down a privacy fence along the alley in November of that year.

 “If the neighborhood hadn’t stood up in opposition at that point, I’m quite certain that today we’d have an MGM parking lot where those houses are,” Dwight Nelson, California Avenue Block Club captain, said prior to the committee meeting.

Mike Maglich, MGM president, attended the meeting and said afterward that he did not know where the corporate headquarters and retail liquor store would relocate to make way for Walgreens.